Monday, March 31, 2008
Sunday, March 30, 2008
This week, in honor of the bouncy house horror, please choose your injury preference.
Saturday, March 29, 2008
This is a bouncy house. It was rented today for the Boy's birthday party. We had postponed the party from last week due to the illness that swept through our home. It was a wonderful party. Everyone had a good time, especially inside the bouncy house.
This is my knee tonight. It is in a brace because while in the bouncy house with my son I attempted to avoid injuring him. There was a distinct POP and excruciating pain. We will know nothing until I get an MRI later in the week, but the consensus at the Urgent Care Center was I have destroyed a ligament; the ACL, MCL or the even the PCL. I am on crutches, icing it, and eating vicodin.
What a crappy end to the week.
Friday, March 28, 2008
I'm feeling this sense of off-kilter patriotism of late because I have been watching HBO's John Adams miniseries. Based on David McCullough's book, which was more a valentine to the founding father than a true biography, the series is lavishly produced, well-written, beautifully acted, and utterly engrossing. I have long been a fan of John Adams. Not everything he espoused was on the mark and I believe, at heart, he did not trust the masses, but he was something special. His relationship with his wife, Abigail, about which much has been written, was particularly touching and one can sense a true partnership in their marriage that not a few of we moderns lack.
The men that founded this country have become mythological, which is not a good thing. We would do well to remember that they were men, with all the flaws that we have. Yet, in spite of those flaws, they understood the need to sacrifice, their responsibility to the future, the importance of their actions. That fact - that they were so similar to ourselves - makes their accomplishments even more impressive than if we see them as something super-human. They risked their lives and those of their families for an idea, an idea that we should determine our form of government. How many of us would do the same? How many of us would be wise enough to think beyond our own lives? Not many of us look farther than tomorrow. As Adams said, referring to his responsibilty to those that come after:
I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.
How many parents today would give up the Plasma much less anything of even greater importance for country or children, let alone grandchildren and great-grandchildren?
So forgive me this moment of patriotic indulgence. I want what they, that began the experiment, wanted: to fill the potential. I suspect it will not happen in my lifetime or that of my children, but this country is a process, not an end. Adams, Jefferson, Washington, et al; they began it and we ought to give them a hearing more often.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
My mother and father divorced when I was three. He remarried a woman with a daughter from a previous marriage - my stepsister. That marriage then produced my half-sister, M, six years younger than I. Much of our childhood was spent together, usually on weekend visits with my father. She was my little sister.
There is a photo of us, me, my brother, and my sister, sitting at the dinner table together. In it we are smiling, young. We are siblings, the woven connections of DNA apparent in our similarities. It is hard to remember that time and were it not for the photo, that part of my life might have slipped away. How is that possible?
When my mother remarried and we moved to another state my contact with M grew less frequent. I saw her on occasional visits back to my home state. When my father and her mother divorced the contact became even rarer. Eventually, as we entered adulthood, we saw one another only at funerals; first our father's, then our brother's. As our paths diverged, she married, had two daughters, and divorced. There were attempts at contact, but they failed - I lacked the dedication, the effort, I think. Since our last interaction, I have gotten married and had two children of my own, children she has never seen.
Though we share blood, we are different - nuture trumping nature. I feel the pull of sibling attachment, of a shared past and parent, but I feel as if I do not know her at all. My brother and I were extraordinarily close - inordinately, as a friend once described us - and that may be part of the problem. Perhaps after losing my brother, committing to another sibling meant potentially painful consequences. Add to that the fact that she and I have no shorthand. We have no subtle clues to one another's moods and our history is limited. A lifetime of shared memories and home experience is not available to us. Yet there is the blood - always, the blood. There is the sense of what we are and where we come from. Shouldn't that be enough?
We are a generation of blended, and not so blended, families. Our parents divorced and recoupled, producing offspring that share genes, but perhaps not lives. What do we do with that? What do we do with family that is neither nuclear nor extended, but something in between? How do we resolve the bonds of step and half, grandparent-raised cousins and far-flung siblings?
Time can fill the space between us like a rising sea, making islands of us all. It can fill it so deeply that one can drown trying to cross the void. My children have cousins; they have an aunt. They should know them. My sister is getting remarried in the fall. Maybe it is time to empty that drowning pool and pull, gently, on the threads that bind us together. Blending, yes, blending.
clockwise from left, me, my brother, my step-sister, my sister.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Behind that blue door is the home I have lived in longer than any other place in my life. We bought this house a little over four years ago, and that period of time far outdistances any other address I have called home. This is the first home I have ever owned (well, the bank owns it, but we're buying it, bit by bit). Home ownership, like marriage and children, came late in my life. My restless nature was to blame for the delays. Like the James Spader character in Sex, Lies, and Videotape, the fewer keys I had on my keyring the more comfortable I felt. If everything I owned could be packed into my vehicle, then I wasn't overburdened. I moved through abodes more commonly inhabited by the itinerant and aimless, and I liked it that way. I lived my life like a song I once wrote:
Some day I'll find a new place,
an unfamiliar town.
I'll get a job, a furnished room,
and I'll try to settle down.
But soon enough I'll blow that burg;
I know that I'll be drawn
out to that old open road
and the thrill of being gone.
Sure it worries me a bit,
but I outrun those fears.
It doesn't matter where I'm going,
just as long as it ain't here.
Things change. Eventually inertia runs its course. I have a family. I have a home.
Our house is a classic California Ranch, built in the post-war boom 58 years ago. Once on the outskirts of town, it is now nestled in the heart, five minutes from the center. It is solid, framed with redwood and built not by construction workers, but by men called craftsmen who fabricated everything on site - no pre-made trusses or drywall here. Assuming the house is cared for, it will still be standing one hundred years from now. There aren't many homes built today that will come close to that. The original owners, the Burris family, wanted it that way. They were respected members of the community. Everyone still remembers them. There is a street named for them in town, as well as a county park. Although he passed away in the 1970's, his widow called it home for fifty years before selling it to the couple from whom we, in turn, purchased it.
It is open and airy, with more windows than would be practical in the middle of the country. The light pours in and races through the rooms, illuminating the walls and reflecting off the floors. It has only two bedrooms, but is bigger than any house in which I have lived. The rooms are spacious and flow into one another. Though it can feel modernist at times with its floor to ceiling windows and large open spaces, it has traditional details like crown molding, coffered panels above the mantels, and greek keys along the built-in bookcase. It's as if, they wanted to welcome the mid-century's new designs, but kept a toe in the past for safety. Even so, it doesn't feel incongruous - the elements were well-thought out and tasteful.
There is a doorbell on the back door to the laundry room. I have decided it was for the tradesmen to use when calling to repair some plumbing or perhaps sweep the chimneys - heaven forbid they use the front door. The neighborhood was that kind of a place; the rich part of town. A visiting friend once exclaimed immediately after arriving, "Where do you live? Beverly Hills?" That was hyperbole, but there was probably a time when to have lived on these blocks was to have made it - to be looked at as having achieved great success, though discretely expressed. Compared to today's McMansions and far more conspicuious consumption it is simpler, older, quainter. The neighborhood is one of quiet streets and grand, 100 foot tall oaks. It is those trees that makes the area so desirable, their shade cooling us in the hot central valley summers. The homes and lots are larger than average, still well kept - most of our neighbors have gardeners - but there is not really an air of wealth here, just solid respectability. I call it Eisenhoweresque.
We have made some improvements to our domain. On its large lot there are new Japanese Maples and three, sturdy, new Trump Oaks that line the curb and will, one day, canopy the entire street. Those new trees have joined the Crepe Myrtle, the tartish Camelias, the Lemon, the Orange, the eager Magnolia, the Privet, the wispy Birch, the Peach trees, the giant Japanese Maple, the 70 foot Liquid Ambers, the grape arbor, the enormous fruitless Mulberry that shades the back of the house in the August heat, and the 30 foot gray palm for which we turned down $15,000 (only in California do people come to your door and offer you money for your trees).
Inside the house's cool, comforting walls the red oak hardwood floors, hidden under carpets since the home was erected, are now gleaming and golden. The bathrooms have been refixtured and painted, the spaces brought up to date, while, like the original owners, still keeping a toe in the past for safety. The house has been furnished with period pieces from the mid-century. Two comfortable chairs circa 1960 that originally adorned a lobby at the University of Houston have been recovered and relocated to our living room. They share the space with a biomorphic sofa; a 1957, Brown and Saltman knockoff of a much more expensive Vladimir Kagan design. An Italian scissor chair was my great indulgence, but virtually all of our furnishings were purchased second hand and fitted into our home with a tender snugness. The house deserves to be of its own time, but not to the point of abandoning the present; not to the ridiculous. It is warm and welcoming to me when I enter it. It is my home.
It is strange to feel so attached to some place when I never imagined any such attachments in my life. To feel a connection to a space - and such ease within it - was, for so long, a foreign concept. Of course, a home is not just about the space, but has as much to do with the things and, more importantly, the people with which you share it. This is my family's home; the place where we became a family and in which my children have begun exploring the world.
My past was restless and there are times that I can feel that same desire flare up in me. To untie myself from these bonds and set myself adrift again can, on a bad day, be very appealling. But my blue door is solid and safe. The road can beckon, but my home - my family - are all I want, really. The light painting through my windows, the drowsy, rustling, shade of my trees, the bouncing echoes of my children's voices off the hardwood; these are miracles of a spirit finally at rest, finally at home. But maybe, one day, I'll paint the door.
Monday, March 24, 2008
- His latest form of the affirmative, used exclusively, is, sure, sure. He says it quickly so that it ends up sounding as if he's speaking cantonese.
- His latest form of the negative, said in a slow drawn out way, especially when he is requested to perform a task that is not desirable is, I don't think so.
- When he initially likes a suggestion but then thinks better of it, it usually goes something like, sure, sure. . . mmmm. . . let's think about that.
- When he chooses the diplomatic path for avoiding a task he will follow your suggestion with the phrase, I have an idea or, my favorite, that would not be wise/prudent at this time.
- This morning he announced his intention to go to his room because he need to go be clever for a while.
- The word "too" is not used for additional items, instead as well is the choice, as in "Mommy, as well, and Daddy, as well, and the dog, as well".
- Whenever he is unable to find someone or something it has mystappeared.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
All apologies to my wife, but my children are everything to me. I do not choose to love them any more then I could choose to stop; it is primal, basic and biological. I never understood what real, unconditional, all-will-always-be-forgiven, would-give-up-my-life-for-you, love was until I saw my son. It was entirely unexpected and profoundly unsettling. Ounce for ounce, he's provided more enlightenment, revelation and soulful resurrection than any of the books I've ever cherished, or anything else celebrated this day.
That happened three years ago today. Happy Birthday, my boy. You are a wonder, sure, sure.
Friday, March 21, 2008
I can't believe I never did. . . Nothing. No regrets for what I failed to do because, if I had done whatever it might have been, I wouldn't be in this very place right now. Tres zen. (I'll probably think of eighty things for this tomorrow) addendum: I knew I would think of something, but there's no regret - I can't believe I never did get into a physical fight in my adult life, especially considering my temper and my propensity for provoking violence in others.
Every time I think about those kidney stones, I still cringe. Not embarassing, but if you had them, you'd cringe and weep with the memory.
I wish I'd never helped duct tape Dwayne Buethal and Randy Cope to folding chairs and flown them into the theater flyloft for half the day in high school, when I had the chance. It was a cruel joke done to people who took more shit than anyone should just because they were two of "those kids" that suffered the most in their teens and were easy targets for it. There is no forgiveness in my soul for myself.
I've never felt so out of place as when I went to my first "Hollywood Party". My agent threw it as a meet and greet for me and then peopled it with D-girls, low-level wannabes, feckless agents, and semi-celebs; all blowing air kisses, smoke up each other's asses, and the not so faint aroma of desperation for what anyone else had that might be used to further themselves. I knew from that moment the entire business would either kill me or make me throw up daily. Thank God, the jaded Paul Mantee was there, holding court, holding a Scotch, chain smoking, laughing at the excess and mercifully pulling me out of vacuous conversations whenever he saw me wincing. He saved me and proved to be the only true friend I ever met in that town. Without him I would have thrown myself from that deck to the depths of Mullholland Canyon.
Just watching my kids sleep when I should be doing something like cleaning the house is my guiltiest pleasure.
I hope Lee knows how grateful I am for teaching me the truth about unconditional, brotherly love, what it means to go without, and the deep sorrow that comes with its end. Life is more precious - bitterly so - than it would have been had I never lost him.
In my darkest hours, I secretly blame myself and only myself for my dysfunction. But then I do that in my brightest hours, as well.
Katie, Arlo & Flyn changed my life forever for the better.
Tagging out to K, RC, and Ms. Wiley
Today, in the mail, I get a Get Well Card from them. Not just pre-printed mind you, but hand signed by the staff and with handwritten little note hoping I was feeling better and that my "cough" was gone. Yeah, that "cough" you all diagnosed four days ago as pneumonia and bronchitis and from which you said I shouldn't expect to fully recover for four to six weeks? That cough? It was weird. Not just because I don't know these people, but because... well... I don't know these people. I have this image of a unit secretary filling out cards at the end of the day and handing them out to sign. "Hope your broken leg is feeling better." "Hope that rash has cleared up." "Hope it's stopped hurting when you pee."
I asked my wife if this is a new hospital policy for every patient because honestly I would prefer that they take care of the sick and not worry about having to sign get well cards. She had no idea, but if it's some community goodwill gesture it's not needed: they're the only game in town and non-profit to boot. Just a weird end to a weird week.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Some things I said, heard, felt, saw - real or imagined - over the last few days.
- "They manufacture bouncy houses, but they rent them too, so they always have some on hand."
- "Multiple Dradis contacts!! Multiple Dradis contacts!!"
- "I don't like that, Debra."
- The pillow melted.
- "Oh no, I spilled again!"
- "Mistakes were made."
- "This is what you look like when you're having a fit. Not pretty is it?"
- I dreamed that we were in a war with evil pigs. Not the police and not a Judeo-Islamic anti-pork skirmish, but an actual conflict with swine. Though in the dream I was sick as well, so just had to watch.
I am not well yet, but this morning I just feel sick as opposed to deathly ill - the feeling of being dinged by a Yaris as opposed to flattened by a Humvee. Sorry to have kept you in the dark, but hey, that's where I was for most of the time - except for those Multiple Dradis contacts.
The Kids are suffering head colds and my wife has thus far escaped any illness but caring for us may have been the worst lot of all. Bless you, dear.
Monday, March 17, 2008
Sunday, March 16, 2008
For anyone feeling out of place these days, cast your vote for a different birth date.
Saturday, March 15, 2008
I've never liked comic or cartoon cats. They're never funny to me and are usually just cruel. I've been known to laugh at a panel of Get Fuzzy, but that's rare. The looney tune where Pepe le Pew falls for the cat hit by paint in such a way that it looks like a skunk, I will admit, always made me laugh, but that was a cat that was a victim and not a victimizer.
Anyway, imagine my delight when I came across one of my most hated comics, Garfield, and it was so much improved once the title character is offed. It has more resonance and humor without the damned cat. Check out Garfield minus Garfield.
Friday, March 14, 2008
The day after watching the zebra doc my future in-laws dropped by, having arrived the day before for the impending nuptials. As we ate our lunch I brought up the striped equines and their story to everyone. When I finished relating the details of the suitor test I turned to my future father-in-law and asked if a little mano a mano was on his to-do list. He smiled, paused for a moment, and said quietly, "No. I don't think so."
My father-in-law is a quiet man, stoic and unemotional. When he is thanked for any of the number of good deeds he has performed for us he invariably brushes it off, uncomfortable with gratitude. A couple of years back, he paid off my wife's remaining student loans, not because we needed the help, not as a gift, but because he felt responsible for his daughter's education and, unable to pay for all of it while she was in school, he felt it was his responsibility now. In restaurants, he and I have often fought over the check, that sense of responsiblity more of a motivation than manly pride. It is responsiblity that drove his success.
A self-made man of the old school, he began managing a McDonald's and then overseeing several owned by one man. He moved up to become president of a small software company that was also owned by the McDonald's owner and eventually bought that company several years back. He is the hardest working man I have ever met, more often than not in the office on Saturdays and Sundays. He has a healthy stock portfolio, the product of disciplined and prudent investing. Before making any major financial decision, I always ask his advice because it is always good. For all that prudence and responsibility however, he would love to be, and could probably survive as, a profesional blackjack player. He's that good at it.
He has a deep love for his daughter, for his grandchildren, and for the blond jokes which he never seems to run out of, to our great dismay: What do you call four blonds at a four-way stop? Eternity. He and my wife play online Scrabble games that last about a week per game and invariably end with him whipping my lovely wife's behind. He can keep the Boy entertained for hours simply sliding a wad of paper back and forth on the dining table. He calls at least once a week, usually on the weekend, usually from his office, and if he leaves a message it is always the same one. I once saved several weeks of messages and played them back one after the other; they could have been the same one put on repeat - same words, same inflection. It's funny, but charming and comforting. The messages, like the man delivering them, solid, dependable, always there.
I like him, a lot. Though I think it would make him uncomfortable to hear it, I would be proud to call him my father. We have never had a heart-to-heart - that isn't his way - though I've often thought of starting one up with him just to watch him squirm. A couple of years back he asked me if I could find an obscure out-of-print song by an obscure 60's, South African, folk group for him. I searched the internet high and low and found nothing. When he visited this past Chrismas, while out to dinner one night (he got the check), I asked if he ever found that song. He said no. I woke early the next morning and started hunting for it. After a lot of searching I did find it. I burned it onto a disc and when he got to the house that morning I played it for him. His face lit up, "That's it! You found it!" It was a good moment for him, but a better one for me.
The day I married his daughter, with all the last minute details to look after, I didn't have time to talk with him much. Finally, while my wife was getting ready, and as my Best Man was straightening my tie, my very soon-to-be in-laws walked up to me. We chatted briefly, telling one another we looked nice, and then my mother-in-law asked me if I had noticed my father-in-law's tie. She pulled it from under his coat, flapped it in front of me and said he'd bought it that morning just for me. It took me a moment before I started laughing. It was zebra striped.
My father-in-law celebrates his birthday tomorrow. Happy Birthday, Dean, and thank you.